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Colorado’s comeback falls short in Senior Day loss to USC

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Early mistakes doomed the Buffs again.

USC v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Colorado Buffaloes looked strong in the second half in their Senior Day upset bid of the USC Trojans, but their comeback attempt came up short and they lost, 38-24.

The Colorado defense looked fantastic early in the game. They allowed a few quality runs to Ronald Jones and the dangerous USC rushing attack, but the defensive line did everything they could to disrupt the line of scrimmage. On USC’s first possession, Javier Edwards got a critical stop to force USC into a long field goal they missed badly. On the next USC possession, Edwards and Evan Worthington teamed up to stop Jones an inch shy on fourth down. The defense was there, but it took Colorado an average of 93 seconds before they had to punt on each drive.

The Buffs looked like they were going to get on the board when Montez found Chris Bounds deep down the sideline for a touchdown on a double-reverse flea flicker, but that was called back because Shay Fields held a defender who could have broken up or intercepted the lofted pass. CU couldn’t move the ball any further and Montez was eventually sacked on 4th-and-9.

After this CU failed possession, USC finally broke through the stout Colorado defense. Darnold is a damn magician. On 3rd-and-9 from the Buffs 25-yard line, Darnold avoided the blitz, scrambled back, shed another tackler, and then found Michael Pittman for the first down. Two plays later he found Pittman in the end zone on a perfect fade throw.

Colorado was unable to move the ball as Montez struggled badly with accuracy. On one poor pass, Shay Fields had to jump for the ball and his legs were taken out from under him causing him to land on his head. He was taken off the field and was ruled out with concussion symptoms.

USC made them pay again as Darnold continued to carve up the secondary. Instead of relying on Pittman, Darnold found Tyler Vaughns on consecutive sideline passes. Dante Wigley’s coverage was excellent, but there’s only so much you can do when the guy you’re covering channels prime Calvin Johnson. USC scored again when Darnold found Deonte Burnett over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown.

Colorado looked to answer back. Juwann Winfree made a spectacular acrobatic catch, but that was called back 15 yards because of a weak taunting call after Winfree spun the ball on the ground in celebration. CU made up for those lost yards as Montez finally had a quality drive, but the drive stalled at the USC 30 after Montez was tackled for a loss on a broken play on 3rd down. Then on 4th-and-3, Mike MacIntyre decided to attempt a 47-yard field goal instead of going for it. Down 14-0 with 1:40 left on the clock, the Buffs evidently thought they could just get points on the board before halftime, but James Stefanou’s kick was blocked.

Colorado got the ball back with time left to score, but Montez threw a pick-six. With under 30 seconds to play in the half, Montez threw an out route to Winfree, but Arjene Harris cut off the pass and returned the interception 34 yards for the touchdown. The good news, though, was that USC missed the extra point and led only 20-0 at halftime.

* * *

At the beginning of the third quarter, CU remembered that they have one of the best running backs in the nation. They gave Lindsay the ball and he provided much needed balance to the offense. After the rushing attack brought in the defense, Bryce Bobo took a screen 27 yards deep into USC territory. Despite their momentum, the Buffs stalled out once again. Inexplicably, the Buffs decided to kick the field goal on 4th-and-3 despite down 20-0, in desperate need of a touchdown, and having one of the best running backs in the nation. It felt like karma when Stefanou’s field goal was blocked for the second time.

Darnold continued his superb game as he led the Trojans down the field again. Leo Jackson and Afolabi Laguda made some good plays, but USC was virtually uncontested on this drive. It was fitting that USC’s touchdown came when Darnold went untouched on a 24-yard scramble.

On Colorado’s ensuing possession, things started to get interesting. After a 3-yard run by Lindsay, the Buffs finally broke through. Winfree streaked up the middle and was unaccounted for. Montez found him in stride and Winfree easily took it to the house for the 79-yard touchdown.

Once USC got the ball back, CU made another huge play. After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Buffs sent everything at the USC punter and freshman Nate Landman blocked it. Nick Trego recovered and ran it to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Lindsay punched it in for the touchdown. Just like that, CU cut a 27-0 deficit to just 27-14.

USC got the ball back and put Ronald Jones to work. But even as he started to run wild, the Buffs still got some stops and Wigley stepped up to make a great play to break up what would’ve been a touchdown. USC made their field goal to go up 30-14. CU answered back as Bobo and Lindsay led the Buffs down the field. Montez continued his excellent second half as he made some plays too, but the pressure got to him and another drive stalled out near the red zone. Stefanou came on to attempt another field goal and this time he made it count.

Just as Colorado looked capable of pulling off the comeback, Darnold and Jones combined for a back-breaking drive that proved that we can’t enjoy football for longer than five minutes. Darnold threw for 41 yards on four passes and Jones had 39 yards on four carries, including a 22-yard touchdown run. A two-point conversion made the score 38-17 with 9 minutes to play.

Colorado answered back with yet another bomb to Winfree. Montez found him deep over the middle with room to run. Winfree turned the safety inside-out and broke free for the 57-yard touchdown. In his first game seeing extended action, Winfree had 163 yards and two touchdowns on five catches.

CU’s ensuing onside kick failed, but they held USC to a three-and-out. Down 38-24 with 7 minutes still to play, CU had a chance. Unfortunately, the Buffs couldn’t get anything going and Montez was picked off on 4th down. The Buffs had another shot after holding USC to a turnover on downs and they got all the way to the 2-yard line, but Montez was sacked on 4th down to end the game.

* * *

Colorado did their best to overcome early mistakes, but an inspired effort from the defense and a great second half from Montez weren’t enough to pull off the Senior Day upset over USC.

With the loss, the Buffs are now 5-6 on the season and they need to knock off Utah in two weeks time. They have a bye week to prepare and they will have to leave everything on the field if they are to reach a bowl game.